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Tis the Valentine Season, and I suppose that's why I was invited to a "Cuddle" Party the other day. Haven't heard of one? Neither had I. I didn't go because it's not my thing, but it's becoming more and more popular in urban landscapes in this ever increasingly isolated world.

The basic concept is that a group of people get together and participate in human contact (in a non-sexual way), and this not only elevates the mental health of the participants, but it has a physical health benefit as well -- thanks to the "love drug/hormone" or "cuddle chemical" known as oxytocin.

Previously, all my knowledge regarding oxytocin concerned mothers and their newborns (examples: regulates labor & breastfeeding), but it plays a role outside of a mother-infant relationship. Oxytocin is released through social interactions and has manifold benefits, some of which are sleep and pain. This Live Science: 11 Intersecting Effects of Oxytocin article ascribes that one of the benefits is sleep:

Oxytocin released in the brain under stress-free conditions naturally promotes sleep , according to a 2003 study in the journal Regulatory Peptides. Ellison said this link makes sense because oxytocin counters the effects of cortisol, which is the known as the stress hormone. "It has a calming effect," she said. "It leaves you feeling tranquil and loving, and certainly that helps our path to sleep."

In articles elsewhere, it mentions that Oxytocin also is anti-inflammatory and can help with pain management. Thus... I was wondering:

  1. To what degree does oxytocin released from the brain vis-a-vis a "Cuddle" Party (or other social interactions):

    -- alleviate pain?

    -- induce sleep?

  2. Just how much "cuddling" is needed in order to garner enough oxytocin for:

    -- pain alleviation

    -- sleep inducement

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This is the first time I've heard about a "Cuddle Party" and I'd probably feel the same way as you about it.

From Medical News Today:

Here are some key points about oxytocin:-
• Oxytocin is a neuropeptide produced in the hypothalamus and secreted by the pituitary gland.
• Oxytocin is released during sex, childbirth and lactation to aid reproductive functions.
• This neuropeptide exerts multiple psychological effects, influencing social behavior and emotion.
• Oxytocin is prescribed for a variety of obstetric and gynecological reasons, including to aid in childbirth.
• High levels of the "love hormone" have been observed in couples in the first six months of a relationship.
• Oxytocin has an anti-anxiety (anxiolytic) effect and may increase romantic attachment and empathy.
• Research shows that oxytocin may have beneficial effects for people with autistic spectrum disorders.
• Oxytocin appears to play a role in protecting the intestine from damage, with potential for use in treatment of irritable bowel disease

I get the impression that natural production of oxytocin is a result of emotional/sexual activity and I'm not sure that cuddling relative strangers (even if they're acquaintances) would replicate that.

Personally, I'd put this down to another one of those attention-seeking fads and let other people get on with it...

I'd say that any benefit from these events is more psychological than chemical.

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